Hemispheric Travelers on the Rioplatense Stage, 1820–86

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:00 PM
Council Room (Omni Shoreham)
William Acree, Washington University in Saint Louis
In mid-July 1886 Sarah Bernhardt finally arrived to Buenos Aires via Rio de Janeiro, where spectators eagerly awaited her presence at a limited number of functions. Bernhardt had just missed the debut of the Creole drama Juan Moreira, previously presented as a pantomime and now enhanced with talking characters. For the next month and a half, news of both Bernhardt and Moreira appeared together in the Buenos Aires press. And it would be easy to imagine the prima donna attending any number of forms of popular entertainment during her stay, for her arrival coincided with the new spectacles of the Carlos Brothers (a U.S. circus family) and Frank Brown (an English clown), while the Italian showman Pablo Raffetto put on “unauthorized” version of Moreira. At the end of July Bernhardt left the capital and traveled north to Rosario, and then in August she acted in La Plata and completed her Rioplatense tour in Montevideo.

Bernhardt’s South American tour obviously tells us something about her fearlessness to brave Transatlantic travel. But beyond this quality of her character, her time in the Plata river region reveals a rich entertainment market whose performers followed a circuit including Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, and, above all, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and smaller towns along the tributary rivers leading to the Río de la Plata. The decade of 1880 was a moment of significant growth in the number of participants in this entertainment market, but by this time it already had a history half a century deep. This paper explores how hemispheric travelers contributed to the consolidation of this entertainment market beginning in the late 1820s, and the new forms of sociability that emerged in the process.

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